On 29th May Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster authorised a Rite for the Celebration of Gay and Lesbian Covenants for use by clergy in six parishes within the Diocese. The parishes authorised to use the service are: St Margaret’s, St Mark’s, St Paul’s, and Christ Church Cathedral, all in Vancouver; St Agnes, North Vancouver; and St Laurence, Coquitlam.
In a letter accompanying the rite, Bishop Ingham commented: “This is not a marriage ceremony, but a blessing of permanent and faithful commitments between persons of the same sex in order that they may have the support and encouragement of the church in their lives together under God.” He stated that couples who seek the blessing must receive preparation and instruction, and be supported and sustained by the parish throughout their lives together. “The church recognises that homosexual couples face the same challenges and share the same responsibilities as other people in living out the costly demands of love. Our purpose is to encourage and strengthen fidelity and mutual supportiveness in family life on which the stability of our wider society depends.”
Commenting on the statement issued by the Primates meeting in Brazil, he said: “The Primates are faithfully reflecting the lack of theological consensus in the Communion. And yet they are also recognising that gay and lesbian Christians are part of the church and are not going away.” He said that he and his diocese agreed with the Primates that there is a “duty of pastoral care that is laid upon all Christians to respond with love and understanding to people of all sexual orientations.”
In a press statement the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “As the recent Primates’ meeting made clear, the public liturgy of the Church expresses the mind of the Church on doctrinal matters and there is nothing approaching a consensus in support of same-sex unions. In taking this action and ignoring the considerable reservations of the Church, repeatedly expressed and most recently by the Primates, the diocese has gone significantly further than the teaching of the Church or pastoral concern can justify and I very much regret the inevitable tension and division that will result from this development.”
Michael Ingham responded, saying: “Of course, I know there’s no consensus. I deeply respect Rowan, and I understand the responsibilities he has. Of course I share with him no desire to add to strains in the Communion. At the same time, I feel this is an issue of biblical justice, and that the Church ought to be able to recognise that cultural differences in different parts of the world play a large part in the view that provinces take of this.”
In a statement to his Diocesan Synod, bishop Ingham said “We acknowledge [the impact our actions will have and the inevitable tensions that will result]. In many places around the world homosexual people are still treated as criminals and even worse, and in some instances with the support of the church. We regret this too, and express our sadness and disquiet at their suffering, and hope our actions in this part of the world may bring some comfort and hope to those millions of people who look to the church for safety and support instead of judgement and condemnation. We are in the forefront of a movement of change taking place across the church, and change is never accomplished easily. Let us agree to live now with the decisions we have made as a body, trusting them to God, and get on with being the church of Jesus Christ in peace together.”
The first blessing was held in St Margaret’s church in east Vancouver on the same Wednesday evening.. Michael Kalmuk and Kelly Montfort, both care workers, partners for 21 years, made a public covenant by vowing to love, support and remain faithful to each other. Holding hands, they said to each other in turn: “I give myself to you. I love you, trust you and delight in you. I will share your burdens and your joys. I will go with you wherever God calls. This is my solemn promise.” The parish priest, the Rev Margaret Marquardt, blessed them, thanking God for creating “the desire for intimacy and companionship, calling them out of isolation and exile, strengthening them against prejudice and fear, and embracing them in a family of friends and loved ones”.
Asked what they would say to the many Anglicans who believe same-sex blessings are sacrilegious, Kalmuk responded, “I would say I truly understand how painful this is for you. But it hasn’t been easy for us either. We all need to be patient.”
The next day, the Most Revd Peter J Akinola, Primate of All Nigeria, issued a statement severing communion with Bishop Ingham and the diocese of New Westminster because of this flagrant disregard for the Anglican Communion and what the vast majority of it stand for, adding: there is also a further context of which I must speak, painful though it is. May of us from the two-thirds world feel that the global north still seeks to retain its disproportionate power and influence in our Church just as in the world. It is significant that those dioceses most tempted to indulge themselves with unilateral actions, taken without consulting the wider Communion, seem so often to be among those materially most advantaged and to be in the global north. Should this not occasion reflection? Do we not see here, in the ready assertion of superior wisdom, a new imperialism?”
The Canadian primate gave a different interpretation of the international primates’ recent statement in a media release: “I share (the primates’) assessment that the absence of consensus makes it impossible to speak with one mind in support of the actions of the synod and bishop of the diocese of New Westminster. At the same time, reports that characterize the primates’ letter as a direct and unanimous repudiation of those actions are wrong. The primates do not, at our meetings, either move resolutions or take votes. We seek the deepest possible expression of unity in whatever terms are available to us. In this case, our common mind accurately reflects the potential for division and the absence of theological consensus among us and within the churches that make up the Anglican Communion.”
The Primate of Uganda, Archbishop Livingstone Mpalanyi-Nkoyoyo, described the Canadian bishop as a “rebel” who would be banned from his province, adding: “He needs to repent. His teaching is heretical.”
The Primate of the West Indies, Archbishop Drexel Gomez, said: “I am very disturbed and upset. I will be in consultation with some of the primates over the next few days, but it’s clear to me that there’s going to be some kind of dislocation.”
The Primates of South East Asia and Rwanda, Yong Ping Chung and Emmanuel Kolini claimed Bishop Ingham’s action served “to challenge, defy and mock all the Primates of the Anglican Communion”. They called upon the Canadian Church “to discipline Ingham and to suspend him as a bishop in their Church. We regrettably acknowledge that they have taken themselves out of the Anglican Communion until by repentance they may return to the full fellowship of the Anglican Communion.”
The Rev Rod Thomas, a spokesman for Reform, the Church of England’s evangelical network, called for the diocese of New Westminster to be expelled from the Anglican Communion if it did not reverse its decision. “If all we hear are noises of regret but no decisive action, then this will be a very black day indeed as this will make it clear that no one intends to stand up against the liberal agenda creeping into the Church,” he said. “It will also mean that all the tensions that surrounded Dr Williams’s appointment will get worse and the Anglican Communion will split into many different parts.”